Three weeks left. Yep, that’s really happening. I honestly can’t believe it. I mean what the heck!!? Is that just how life is? You wake up one day from nine months of marking each day off your calendar and you’ve come to the final stretch? It’s weird because I’ve been obsessing over my remaining time since day one, ticking off days and looking forward to certain events that have come and gone. It seemed like this year would just never be over. In retrospect, it has been the longest year of my life. Keeping such close tabs on time really slows things down. Sometimes, I needed that.
The weather here has been on and off with rain and beautiful, mild weather and huge puffy clouds. It started getting warmer a couple months ago so the fans and AC are officially on! I will say that I am happy to be returning soon to the land of snow and mild rainstorms. I am so beyond sick of rain hahaha It would be ok if I didn’t have to walk all over the place in it! My shoes, pants and backpack are always wet. I take a train, then a bus to school and walk a short distance from the bus stop and last week it was absolutely pouring!! All the streets had small floods and there were small pond-sized puddles everywhere. Walking from the bus stop to school was a like walking through a water park. Rain gutters were shooting out water, storm drains were overflowing and using an umbrella soon became pointless. It is the absolute worst feeling to walk through an unavoidable, shin deep puddle with your shoes and socks still on. The entire school was drenched head to foot so that was fun.
The past few days have been such a testament to how short a time I really have here. My classmates organized a farewell party for me yesterday because this week of school is essentially my last. We had pizza and I had a chance to talk to them all at once. I spoke English because I wanted it to be exactly what I meant. Even if they didn’t understand everything I said, I hope that they could feel the love that I have for them. I’ve failed to mention them very often in my other posts, but they made such an enormous positive impact on my exchange year. School was much more bearable with these 30 friendly kids. They truly did their best to help me feel welcome in their class despite how shy they were. They said friendly good mornings and were always more than willing to practice Chinese with me or help me out in some way. I became especially close with one girl, Wenling, who is headed to her exchange in California this summer. I am beyond excited for her. She is so kind and brave for venturing out of Taiwan and experiencing the world, I wish her all the best and I’m so grateful for her friendship this year. It was hard to talk to them at the party because I remembered every kind thing they had done for me and all of the memories I had of them goofing off and enjoying their year. They are near and dear to my heart and some of my very favorite people.
Today on the bus home from school, I talked with my friend who was an exchange student in the United States last year about her last days of exchange and how she felt coming home. It was nice to have that conversation with her and I feel like I’ve been developing a deeper love for Taiwan this last month than any of my previous time here. My host family is awesome and funny and I love them to pieces. My host sister is Roman’s age and the younger host sister is Emerson’s age (my two real brothers back home) which is funny that their ages match up. I guess their small poodle is Kate hahaha Truly host families are, in my opinion, one of the top three most important parts of exchange. A genuinely caring and loving host family makes an absolutely indescribable world of difference. My close friend Luisa and I have shared families this year and I’ve seen how big of difference it has made in each of our lives to interact with these families and build relationships with them. I’ve shared some of my favorite memories with these people and there really is no way to pay them back for their kindness and hospitality. They aren’t getting paid for this which is the truly amazing part. I honestly can’t thank them enough.
Aside from these unwanted, and very sad feelings of sentimentality, these past couple months have been quite fun at times and painfully boring at others. One of my favorite things ever was going to this theme park in Longtan with all of the exchange students from my high school, Ping Jen. So Ianne (Brazil), Quentin (France), and Vinzent (Germany) went all together with Ianne’s first host family. It was SO fun and revived the driving force of love and excitement in my life-rollercoasters. Ok, so granted there were like two actual roller coasters in the whole park, but I had such a good time. A massive log ride and a very strange indoor roller coaster were enough to help us have a lot of fun. The indoor roller coaster seemed immediately like a mistake. We sat in our seats in a long line of empty cars and proceeded to be pulled up a steep tunnel to where the roller coaster presumably began from the vantage point of highest potential energy within the small space of the warehouse we were in. All seemed well as we rode up through the neon-lined tunnel. We exited the tunnel, still going up, into an almost completely pitch black room where we could see faint outlines of cleaning and construction supplies past the vague structure of the ride. We were immediately worried that the ride was in fact, not in working order because the lighting concept was nothing short of bizarre. However, the ride worked fine and lit up occasionally and turned out to be super fun. The next ride, just as we peaked, I turned and yelled to Ianne “Who is that guy in the corner?!?!” which overdid its job of freaking Ianne out and made me progressively leery as we rode again and again. I am not afraid of roller coasters or bungee jumping or flying or heights. I am afraid of the dark! Anyway, that was a stress-relieving day for everyone and tons more fun than anyone, especially Ianne could have anticipated. (As we walked up to the entrance of the park she said to me “Ugh this is just a park for kids”, ten minutes later we were shown the map of bumper cars and roller coasters).
I had a wonderful visit with Rob Keller from my ward in Utah while he was in Taipei for work as an electrical engineer! It was so so so so nice to talk with someone from home. We had lunch at TGI Friday’s and I can say very honestly that I haven’t been that full on my entire exchange. What a great time to be able to have lunch with him! It really refreshed me for the following weeks. I had a small hope that my parents would hop out from around the corner as a surprise but sadly that wasn’t the case hahaha
I’ve visited some more beautiful places in Taiwan with my host family and friends. We recently went to Yehliu or the site of the ‘Queen’s head’. It’s a geographical national park where tons of strange rocks shaped by the tides are preserved and observed, with beautiful shapes and colors. I was really impressed by how tidy it was compared to other places in Taiwan! There was some garbage in a large tide pool, but other than that, the park was doing a pretty good job of keeping things clean. Which is pretty impressive considering I’m constantly watching people carelessly litter all over the streets in the city. Anyway, we explored the beautiful park and took in all the scenery, wildlife and hoards of Chinese people visiting from close by. I have a personal policy to never stereotype an entire country of people, but the Chinese are very… different hahahah even from Taiwanese! Their accent was strange to hear but good prepping for me because that’s probably the Chinese I’ll be hearing in the United States. They were all a little pushy in the lines but seemed civil enough. Very classic head-to-toe-shaded-from-the-sun tourists and were quite entertaining to watch at times as they were fined over and over again for crossing clear, red lines to take pictures near the ocean. We rested atop a small hill looking out at the park and ate mango ice. It was delicious and so refreshing and such a wonderful vantage point. Really a cool moment! Afterwards, we walked through the little seaside market outside of the park gates then went to the ‘old street’ in nearby Yilan. There are a handful of these ‘old streets’ throughout the cities in Taiwan. They are wide enough for cars, but only foot traffic is allowed. People line the streets with little carts and booths in front of all kinds of little stores and restaurants. It’s probably the best place to get a real feel for Taiwanese culture and traditional foods. There is always, tapioca ball milktea, tofu ice cream, stinky tofu, assortments of dried herbs and mushrooms, traditional Chinese medicine and everything in between.
Food in Taiwan is always really hit-or-miss for me and that day was great for snacks and horrible for meals. The noodles were classically mild, but the other dishes were bamboo (save it for the pandas), boiled cabbage (just why. It’s everywhere. At EVERY meal) and the worst of all; Large intestine and sour vegetable dish-served cold. I don’t know if any of you have a taste for things that are smoked but served cold, heck I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but it was like that. Only more sour. I’ve had that dish before and It’s up there with stinky tofu.
I’ve loved living in Taoyuan. Luisa and I are unique in that we’ve lived in three different cities; Yangmei, Zhongli and Taoyuan, all progressively northward. Most exchange students in our district just live in a few different places in one city during the course of their exchange year. Taoyuan is one of Taiwan’s more prominent cities and is pretty big. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the airport and a thirty minute drive to Taipei. Which is crazy to me because (for all the Utahns reading) it’s approximately the same distance as downtown Salt lake to Ogden or Provo. It’s hard to get that perspective, however, because I’m never really on hills or mountain side roads like I am when I’m in Salt Lake and there are so many huge buildings everywhere. So anyway, where I live now, there’s a lot to do and a lot of other exchange students who live nearby, which is really fun.
I’ve enjoyed exploring more of the city here and getting to know it a bit better. You don’t have to look far to be surprised or to find something new. That’s ultimately what I’ve loved the most about being on exchange. There is just a seemingly endless supply of new experiences, places and people. I helped a lost 23-year-old woman from Israel at the train station after school a few weeks ago and was able to have a really good conversation with her about life in Israel and her life of traveling the past few months. She really helped me feel less stressed about making a decision about what to do with my future. She said, “that seems to be kind of a problem in America, everybody goes to college right after high school and isn’t really old enough to know which path they want to choose. In Israel, we all have to do military service after high school so we’re almost forced to take some time off, travel and make plans for the future.” That was really cool to hear, because even if you are in a cultural situation, like most Americans are, and you’re expected and anticipating to serve a mission or go straight to college, you should take it slow and leave time to see new places, meet new people and make plans for the future.
It’s been so fun to talk to foreigners. I wish we were more friendly with each other I want to go up to every non-Asian person I see and ask them everything about their lives hahaha I actually only see like one foreign person every day not counting the other exchange students. It will be weird to come home to seas of “foreigners”. It’s weird to say that because I was thinking the same thing about being surrounded by Asians when I got here!
I’m really looking forward to these last few weeks of exchange. We have our big end of year trip to the East of Taiwan with all the exchange students and even the Taiwanese exchange students who are going out this summer! I’m so excited, it’s the only area of Taiwan I haven’t been! Thinking of the scenery I’m going to be able to see on the trip makes me wish cameras could capture the beauty that I’ve seen so far. I really wish you could all experience it.
There are huge jungly hills everywhere and beside the sea especially, there are these enormous slopes that dive straight into the ocean. Sea-level land is very limited and that’s my favorite stretch of land in Taiwan. There’s this road I’ve traveled a few times that weaves in and out of the jungle in the mountains to give you a spectacular view of the ocean until your next to the mountain and beside the sea, passing through little towns and looking out at the waves. It’s a pretty big stretch of road up in the far North of Taiwan past Taipei, which is also a super fun city to drive past. Taipei really is such a cool city. There is a lot of creative architecture and street art. It’s indescribable. It definitely has the feel of any normal big city, but it just has it’s own Taiwanese culture wrapped up in everything. Big temples dotting the skyline and Taipei 101 of course towering over everything. It was cool to go to Taipei to see Rob Keller because I was able to take a metro up above the road past the airport that flies to the islands of Taiwan, through a cool metropolitan area just west of Taipei’s city borders and over a little river. Really cool area. There are even soccer fields surrounding Taipei! I would kill to live near one hahaha
Another big thing that happened was our Chinese proficiency test! It’s the Chinese equivalent of the TOEFL which is an internationally proctored test for non-native English speakers. Most of the exchange students in our district took it at a university in Zhongli. There were probably like forty other foreigners there taking it with us. We sat at little computers in a freezing room for about an hour or so while we took the test. There is a speaking, reading, writing and listening portion of the exam in three bands, each band contains two levels. Depending on what you signed up for, you either take Band A, Band B or Band C and your scores in those bands determines where you are on a scale from one to six, higher than six being native-speaker level. I chose to take the Band A listening and reading portion. You listen to a series of Chinese conversations and match up the correct answer for the picture and practice reading comprehension on the other section. I was more nervous than I thought I would be, but I’ve always been a really fast test-taker (I either know it or I don’t) so it was over pretty quick. I was one point short of passing level two on listening and about mid-range for level one on reading. This was about the same as all the other exchange students with about six passing level two for both and two passing levels three and four in a separate exam. It was a good experience and I will continue to study Chinese when I come home and take the test again.
Well, I think that about brings you up to date on everything that’s been going on with me. I hope to be better about writing as I go through these last few weeks and my traveling in the East of Taiwan! Thanks again for all the support, especially my wonderful parents and my Grandma Pat! Your emails and encouragement are what’s kept me going. Love you all!